First Tom Kemp has a right to be a very happy man (and by the way Tom, nice posting below!). Kent State played really well last night and Al Fisher was truly outstanding. If they somehow don’t win the MAC conference tournament (and as long as they don’t get knocked out in the quarters which is one of my selection primer rules), they deserve an at large bid to the tournament. That’s a good St Mary’s team they beat.
And is Drake for real or what? Wow, what a great game with Butler. Forget Tennessee - Memphis, which was a really good game, but this was better. That was Sweet Sixteen tournament quality play yesterday. What a fun game to watch.
It was a really great day for watching Bracketbuster games. Really really great. There was the marquis matchup of Drake and Butler living up to the hype and going down to the wire which included one of the best highlight plays of the season. VCU on the road holding off a game Akron team. Ohio was down 28-11 to George Mason only to outscore the Patriots 58-29 the rest of the way to get a comeback win. Southern Illinois finally looked like the team everyone thought they would be in the beginning of the year and just pasted a decent Nevada team. A young Creighton team pulled off the upset of Oral Roberts on a three pointer by Booker Woodfox (what a great name) with 26 seconds left. Miami of Ohio and Valpo let it all hang out on the court and went DOUBLE overtime before the Crusaders edged the Redhawks. Then finally, Kent State, so desperately needing a win to get recognition for an at large NCAA berth gets a outstanding performance from Al Fisher, a guard that was given a scholarship with the coaches never having seen him play and downs #20 St Mary’s on their home court (which was their first home loss of the season).
And I was at Iona to watch Hofstra win convincingly in their non televised Bracketbuster game vs Iona 81-63. Charles Jenkins, the best freshman in the CAA, had 28 points and Antoine Agudio had 24 points as the Pride shot 55 percent from the field. Hofstra has now won four of its last five games and if Jenkins can continue hitting the three pointer as he did yesterday, the Pride will be awfully dangerous come tournament time in the CAA.
Here’s some quick thoughts.
Best Mid Major Conference - Has to be the Missouri Valley going four for four on televised games as Drake, Illinois State, Creighton and Bradley all won. Drake clinched its at large berth with the impressive win at Butler. Southern Illinois absolutely hammered Nevada and Bradley had a solid win over UW Milwaukee. The best win may have been Creighton’s, whose young team came to play against a solid Oral Roberts squad. Their win effectively ended the Golden Eagles slim chances at an large bid.
Runner-up in the Category - The MAAC - Siena absolutely blew out Boise State, Rider stunned Cal State Northridge on their home court and Niagara had a solid win on the road at Appalachian State. Loyola Maryland, also tied for first in the MAAC with Siena, Rider and Niagara also won beating UC Davis and Fairfield won at Drexel. Of the top 6 teams in the MAAC, only Marist lost, getting thumped by Cleveland State.
Best Guard Tandem - Drake’s Leonard Houston and Josh Young. Houston and Young were playing the more ballyhooed tandem of Mike Green and AJ Graves and simply played better. In fact Young frustrated Mike Green so much, Green fouled out at the end of the game on a critical play that resulted in Young getting three free throw attempts. Young had 25 points and Houston added 16 to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Best Big Man Tandem - Ohio’s Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman combined for 26 points and 16 rebounds and held Patriots star Will Thomas to 9 points on only 3 of 6 field goal attempts as the Bobcats came back and beat the Patriots. Bubba Walther will get the lionshare of the praise with his 21 points but it was Tillman and Williams keeping down Thomas that made the difference.
Most Underrated Big Man - Drake’s Jonathan Cox. A lot of the talk before the Drake Butler game was how Drake had no answer for Butler freshman forward Matt Howard. Howard did have a good game with 16 points and 9 rebounds, but Drake’s Cox had 11 points and 11 rebounds as Drake outrebounded Butler 31 -25. Cox also hit all three of his free throw attempts as Drake shot 18 of 20 from the line.
Best Single Game Performance - Al Fisher of Kent State. Fisher had a terrific game scoring 28 points and easily outplaying the more hyped Patrick Mills of Saint Mary’s. Fisher has established himself as one of the best mid major guards in the country averaging 21 points per game during the Golden Flashes six game winning streak. Not bad for a player who was given a sight unseen scholarship by Kent State.
Best Single Game Performance Runner-up - Diamon Sampson in the same game. Dominant performance with 24 points ,15 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks kept the Gaels in the game despite the loss to Omar Samhan to injury and the awful performance by Patrick Mills. Sampson nearly averages a double double a game for the Gaels.
Most Underrated Team in the Bracket Busters - Though Kent State finally got the props given to it with their win last night, the award has to go to Siena, for thoroughly crushing first place WAC Boise State 94-70. Siena is tied for first in the MAAC and has a win over Stanford this year and barely lost to Syracuse and St Joe’s. The Saints did it by forcing 20 turnovers, thus getting 17 more shot attempts, outrebounding the Broncos 39-33 and shooting 47 percent from the field.
Most Overrated Team in the Bracket Busters - George Mason. The enigma that is George Mason reared its ugly head yesterday. Up 28-11 late in the first half, the Patriots got outscored by 29 points the rest of the way. They simply can’t play consistently and that’s been the case all year. Beat Kansas State and Dayton. Lose to Georgia State, East Carolina and Delaware. Go up 17 points in a game, lose by 12 in the same game. They don’t know how to get the ball to their best player Will Thomas and often don’t even try. But give Williams and Tillman on Ohio credit. They did a great job on Thomas.
Best Play of the Bracket Busters Weekend - Even with one game left, I can’t see any play today outshining the alley oop play from Klayton Korver to Leonard Houston in the Drake game. What a great catch and finish by Houston. Simply awesome.
Teams that Clinched Their Births in the Dance - Drake and Kent State. The Bulldogs played a magnificent game yesterday on the road. But Kent State’s performance was equally impressive giving St Mary’s their first loss at home this year. And remember, St Mary’s beat Drake at home earlier in the season, so the Golden Flashes win may even be more impressive.
Teams that are Still Ok But Hurt Their Seeding - Butler and St Mary’s. Butler did all they could but Drake was the better team. Thus these Bulldogs may go from a #5 seed to a #7 seed now. St Mary’s seed will drop a little, but I think the NCAA committee may be lenient on them since star forward Omar Samhan was hurt early on. The key though is how hurt is Samhan and how long is he out.
Stick a Fork in Their At Large Hopes - Oral Roberts and George Mason. Tough loss by the Golden Eagles. They were undermined by poor three point shooting and a game Bluejays squad. Though give Ohio a lot of credit for coming back, George Mason laid an egg pure and simple.
“We Won, But I Don’t Know Where That Leaves Us” - VCU and Davidson- VCU did what it had to, winning yesterday, but they didn’t improve their bubble chances beating the fourth best MAC team (with Kent State, Ohio and Western Michigan being better and all of them winning yesterday by the way). With Maryland and Houston looking weaker by the day, and a RPI of only 62, the Rams most likely have to win the CAA tournament to get in.
Davidson looked more impressive in their win over Winthrop, but with a RPI of 63, and Winthrop not as strong as an opponent as they would have been last year, the Wildcats are tenuously on the bubble as far as an at large bid. Hopefully the NCAA committee members watched the performance and also realize that Winthrop had only lost twice at home in their last 48 games, and that Winthrop may be in the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year. Hopefully Davidson wins the Southern tournament and the point is moot.
Now onto the final Bracket Buster game of the weekend.
Wright State vs Illinois State - This game is going to be marred by the fact that the Redbirds’s third leading scorer guard Dom Johnson is out indefinitely after undergoing a tonsillectomy. Thus the Redbirds will have to rely more on guard Osiris Eldridge and forward Anthony Slack. This plays “wright” into the hands of the Raiders, the best defensive team that the Redbirds will face this side of Southern Illinois.
Illinois State (19-8, 11-5 MVC) has their best record in a long time under first year coach Tim Jankovich, a former assistant for Bill Self at Kansas and Illinois. The Redbirds pride themselves on being a deep squad, with nine players averaging 12 minutes or more a game. Led by Eldridge, who averages 16 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (pretty good for a 6 foot 3 guard), the Redbirds are in second place in the Missouri Valley, a conference that has already seen the other top four teams in conference win their Bracket Buster games. The Redbirds are a balanced team; they are first in the Missouri Valley in field goal percentage at 46.5 percent, second in three point field goal percentage at 38.4 percent, yet second in the MVC in scoring defense and second in the MVC in field goal percentage defense at 40.6 percent. They are also second in assists, second in blocked shots and second in turnover/assist ratio.
The Redbirds have struggled as of late, only winning six of their last 10 games in conference. Their RPI which was in the top 50 for most of the year, has dropped to #51. Their best non conference win is over Cincinnati, which has a RPI of 70 (they have lost to Kent State and Indiana as well). Still second place in the Missouri Valley, a conference with a RPI ranking of 8, a history of multiple NCAA tournament bids in the past several years, plus the excellent MVC showing in the Bracket Buster Series, gives lots of credence to the success the Redbirds have had this year.
This is coach Brad Brownell’s second year at Wright State (20-6, 12-4 Horizon) and for the second year in a row, the Raiders have 20 wins. In his first season of coaching, all Brownell did was take a bottom feeder Horizon team and take them to the Horizon regular season championship then beat Butler in the tournament championship game. This year, again they have beaten Butler in conference play and are second in the conference with a 12-4 record. They are the masters of winning the close game. The Raiders have won eleven straight games, but in their last seven games, the Raiders have not scored more than 59 points, with six of those games decided by six points or less. In fact the Raiders have won 14 games this year by six points or less.
The Raiders are led by guards Vaughan Duggins and Todd Brown, who have combined for 27.5 points 7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. Duggins and Brown take most of the shots as each as 100 field goal attempts more than their third leading scorer Scottie Wilson. However, the Raiders trademark is their defense. Wright State is second in scoring defense in the Horizon at 60.3 points per game, first in field goal percentage defense at 41 percent, second in rebounding margin,
Analysis - Especially with Dom Johnson out, this is going to be a close, low scoring game. Both teams play excellent defense and it will be executing the little things that will decide this game. The stat that may tell the difference in this game could be free throw shooting. Though Wright State is not great at 68 percent shooting, they are better than the Redbirds who are last in the Missouri Valley in free throw shooting at 63 percent. Given that and the Raiders track record for winning close games, look for Wright State to end the perfect run the top teams in the Missouri Valley have had in the Bracket Busters series this weekend. Wright State wins 58-56.